Failure to launch

I think about this blog every day. I think about Mom every day. But thinking has not translated into action. For days and days, and weeks and weeks, and actually months, I have not written anything about Mom. Similarly, I didn’t do anything about Mom’s death once the memorial service was over and I returned to a new life, no longer a caregiver. I didn’t make a decision to ignore the things I needed to do. I’d call it a very serious case of avoidance: If I didn’t engage in tasks related to when Mom was alive or now that she had died, I wouldn’t have to consider how I felt about her being gone.

The activities director at the Alz center called me a few days after Mom died and asked what she should do with Mom’s belongings. They filled one bin and two garbage bags. She said she could donate them to other residents or to a local charity. I told her I wanted to see her things – mostly clothes, a few pairs of shoes, and miscellaneous trinkets that hadn’t been lifted by other residents in her seven years at the center – and then I’d return everything usable for other residents to have. Mom’s jewelry, some of her shoes, eyeglasses, stuffed animals and a variety of other items had disappeared over the years. Residents went “shopping” in others’ rooms – that’s how staff described it. (This was not theft, of course, but the result of confusion and memory loss.) So we were discouraged from having anything of value in Mom’s room. She had taken to wearing costume jewelry shortly before she moved to the Alz center from assisted living. And she was wearing glasses when she moved in. But those small and portable items went missing fairly quickly. I suspected that a replacement pair of glasses would disappear, too, or, worse, somehow cause Mom an injury. It was safer, really, to just let her go without.

I told the activities director I’d come in to get the items the following week. That would have been early November. On Feb. 8, accompanied by Patrick, I finally returned to the Alz center for the first time since Mom had died in late October. Her belongings were long gone, the staff member there at the time said, and that made perfect sense. And that means I didn’t have to go through them and think about what should go back to the residents and what didn’t merit keeping at all. Mom’s clothes were laundered so frequently that most of them were very worn. Not getting the chance to see her belongings caused me no anxiety, and potentially saved me from performing a sad task. But I did regret putting the center through the trouble. Meanwhile, I have many boxes of Mom’s belongings – mostly of sentimental value – in my basement. I haven’t gone through those, either.

While at the center, Patrick and I went to the skilled nursing section to have a short visit with Bobbi, who had led Mom’s nursing care in her last days. Bobbi put her hand on the counter and I put my hand on top of hers. “I just never came back,” I said. “It’s different for everybody,” she said. I didn’t have to explain a thing.

The same day, a Monday that Patrick and I both took off of work, we went to the funeral home to retrieve the urn containing Mom’s cremains. The director had called to ask me to take them home. After a certain amount of time, the funeral home has concerns about losing track of such things. And it really wasn’t their problem anymore. She didn’t say that, but there was no reason for the urn to stay there.

The urn is heavy. It is marble, a durable enough substance for burial. The plan is to bury the urn in a local cemetery. The funeral director had called the cemetery on behalf of my siblings and me to price out a plot. But I haven’t done anything to secure a burial site. To his credit, my brother Jeff, while in town for a music directing job, suggested we go to the cemetery to look at the possibilities. We found a stretch of a section that is open for the burial of cremated remains and stones flush to the ground. It’s a nice section with some trees. Mom liked trees. We’d like it if her final resting place could be near a tree, so we’ll see what we can do.

And then there was the bank account. I had joined Mom’s checking account about 10 years ago when she started showing signs of misunderstanding her finances. After I wrote a check for funeral costs that ran above the sum I had prepaid in 2009, the account had a balance of about $14. As the months passed and fees for a low balance were assessed, I got notices about the overdrawn account in my email. Finally, in late March, I went through the box of items from the funeral home to find a death certificate and went to the bank to close the account. The banker who helped me decided to waive some of the fees so I had to pay only $3.50 or so for letting the account become overdrawn – a kind gesture considering I had simply been negligent about closing the account. His wife’s grandmother had Alzheimer’s, he said. Maybe he took a little pity on me for that reason.

I’m kind of disgusted with myself for this behavior, this avoidance and neglect of my duties – especially since they were not really that daunting. The excuse I give myself is that I was on the hook for 10 years of caregiving, and the instant that responsibility went away, I shut down. Did things on my own time. Set my own deadlines. Had no Medicaid case worker or nurse or business manager to answer to. The thing is, the only thing that accomplished was punishing myself with more guilt. I guess I’ll never learn.

7 comments so far

  1. Sayte Holland McComb on

    … And here I am on the other end of the spectrum. I’ve thought about you quite often, wondering if you were doing a better job of this part of life than I am. You are so fortunate to have Patrick. As you know, E is in Ohio, sister is disabled in several ways and had never really been available, and other brother is combative, (to the point of not speaking to me at either of Moms services, or since then).
    My home office is a total nightmare. I can barely tell where her life papers are and mine begin. Finally, I put a nice box with a lid on the floor with a large sign that reads, “MOMS STUFF”.
    Because keeping her in her home, which is all that she wanted, required two people, my husband took leave from a job he did not really care for. We had no idea of the length of this scenario. It came close to 2-1/2 years. During that time, we paid our own bills, (and often hers just because it was easier), and depleted stocks, and other funds. I never knew or realized that our loan comes due next month. So, we are basically losing our home — BUT I HAVE NO REGRETS, NOT ONE, THAT SHE WAS ABLE TO BE IN HER HOME. She left us after 65 years, almost to the date that she and my Dad moved in to the house that they built together.
    Again, I have no regrets, but losing a home that we built and have made our own for the past 30 years has shattered my entire being, done damage to my marriage which seems impossible to fix, and intensified my grieving.
    In her kindness, she left her home to us, and we are so grateful to her. It’s value is 1/4 of what ours is, it is in severe ill repair, and even equity and a very small inheritance will not allow us to relocate or to repair it.
    Everyone has different experiences. Ours is a story not about loss, but of pure love for one of the finest women that I shall ever know. We were so fortunate that there was no dementia or worse. She had complete control over her destiny, thanks to an incredible Hospice team who not only took care of her daily needs, but returned the extraordinary love she felt for them. She, because of these people, was able to know with incredible insight, when it was time to take her leave.
    This is how my “New Life” began. I have no clue as to where it will take me. But I want to thank you for all of your posts that at times mirrored exactly what I felt. Your words validated my feelings so many times, I feel such gratitude for your sharing.

  2. momsbrain on

    Oh, Sayte, this breaks my heart. I had no idea of all that you went through to care for your mother and keep her in her home. I understand that you have no regrets. But I just hate it that this is what caregiving can do to families. It is simply not fair that you are suffering these additional losses, that your finances have taken such a hit and, worst of all, your marriage has been damaged. It’s just not the way things should be in this world. And yet, I know it is common. This might not come out right – but I was lucky that my mom didn’t care about staying at home. It made the transition to facilities much easier than it is for many patients and families. I imagine you are very proud that you were able to achieve that for your mother, that she could live out her life in her home. The sacrifices you made, though…well, I am just very sorry that all that you are experiencing now is intensifying your grieving. And you can’t get away from it the way I did with my avoidance of a few tasks. Thank you for your kind words about this blog. This was one of the more complicated posts, for me, that I’ve written in quite awhile. I’m not sure exactly why. Thank you for commenting, and take care. I am thinking of you.

  3. David Hoover on

    Don’t beat yourself up. We all heal in different ways. Don’t forget or dismiss how you cared for her during the important time…when she was still alive!

  4. hellpellet on

    Bobbi’s right, everyone does things their own way & in their own time. I’m sorry for your loss.

  5. Patrick on

    Last night as I struggled to get to sleep, I thought of Mom’s memorial. Specifically, I was thinking about how I remembered Mom during the memorial: Having a great time, surrounded by artists and compatriots at a table at the Algonquin Hotel.

    After I drifted off to sleep, my dreams took me back to Mom. She was still with us. We were having the memorial for Mom while she was still with us.

    Friends and family came and went. Everyone in the dream knew Mom was leaving soon, but we were celebrating her while she was still here. In the dream, I remember being happy and I also remember being overcome by sadness and loss – all at once – and crying. (I wondered if I was crying out loud as I slept.)

    The feeling of this dream, however, was not overwhelmed by sadness. The sensation of the dream was mainly acceptance and love. We were calm. We were not scared. I could see Mom smiling and I heard Mom laughing.

    After Mom died, maybe you didn’t immediately deal with all the expectations IN THIS WORLD. But – you took care of Mom when she needed you and everything else is simply ephemera.

  6. Jeff on

    Patrick, you’re killing me. What a great dream.

  7. momsbrain on

    Belated response to everyone…!

    David: I know, I know. I just get disgusted with myself sometimes.

    HP: Thank you. I know you know.

    Patrick: I envy you for having a visit from Mom in your dreams. I can’t wait until she visits me – if not restored, then at least smiling and laughing.

    Jeff: I agree!

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